Report on Lower Fraser River identifies $50 billion risk to the region

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11-09-22_ETF_ProjectAreaEmbedded2“With over 300,000 people in the flood plain – and another one million expected to live in the region by 2040 – the risks are too great to ignore,” says the report’s principal author, Dave Park.

Surrey: Boards of Trade and Chambers of Commerce from the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley have released a new research study which concludes that $50 billion in economic development along the Lower Fraser River is at risk unless all levels of government act now to address the serious issues facing the river.

Without an integrated management strategy and adequate funding, “the Lower Fraser River is heading for potential economic, environmental and social disaster unless senior levels of government start dealing with issues now,” said the report’s principal author, Dave Park. “With over 300,000 people in the flood plain – and another one million expected to live in the region by 2040 – the risks are too great to ignore.”

The report was commissioned by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce in early 2013 with the Surrey Board of Trade, in partnership with 12 others Chambers and Boards, and the provincial government. The report was led by Dave Park, an independent economist and former Chief Economist for the Vancouver Board of Trade.

Based serious risks to the economic benefits of the Fraser River, every Board of Trade and Chamber of Commerce in the Lower Mainland – from the mouth of the river around Richmond, to the entrance to the Fraser canyon at Hope, are calling on senior levels of government to act now to commit funding to head off potential disaster.

The report calls on the Federal, Provincial, regional and municipal governments to immediately take a lead role in bringing together the relevant stakeholders; and appropriately empower, task and fund that group with putting in place a collaborative regional strategy for the entire Lower Fraser River and adjacent lands, addressing short and longer term measures, and management requirements.

“The current costs just for diking upgrades for the tidal areas of the river and for adjacent coastal reaches required by 2100 are in range of $9 billion,” added Matt Pitcairn, the Manager of Policy and Communications at the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and the report’s co-author. “Damage from a major dike failure could be in the tens of billions of dollars, with very serious effects to the economy of this region, British Columbia and all of Canada due to the impact on the transportation of goods and services,” said Pitcairn.

“The first step is to bring together the relevant stakeholders into a group,” concluded Park. “They should then be empowered to develop a collaborative strategy that will include the long term funding needed to deal with the significant risks to the Lower Fraser River, the region, and entire the national economy.”

The Lower Fraser River is a vitally important resource for the Lower Mainland, British Columbia, and Canada as a whole, with port activity that rivals Canadian traffic on the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Boards of Trade and Chambers of Commerce chose July 15 to release the report in conjunction with the launch of the Lower Mainland Flood Strategy by the Fraser Basin Council. “The impacts from potential floods are a major risk identified in our study,” said Pitcairn, “and we support the collaborative approach initiated by the Fraser Basin Council today, to implement an inter-jurisdictional regional flood management strategy.”

Economic importance of the Lower Fraser River outlined in the report:

PRIMARY ECONOMIC INDICATORS:

  • The port function of the LFR rivals Canadian traffic on the St. Lawrence Seaway, both in terms of tonnages and jobs
  • Port Metro Vancouver is the largest port in Canada and largest port by export tonnage in North America
  • The Lower Mainland has over 50% of B.C.’s population and $50 billion dollars’ worth of development in the floodplain of the LRF
  • Soil in Fraser Valley supports some of the most fertile agriculture in Canada and annually generates more than 62% of the province’s gross farm receipts ($1.6 billion)
  • 9 of 10 Federal Small Craft Harbours (SCH) in the region are located along the LFR. Steveston hosts the largest SCH in Canada, a key facility for the commercial fishing industry on the B.C. coast

THREATS TO FUTURE SUSTAINABILTY:

  • 300,000 people live in the floodplain of the LFR. By 2040, an additional one million people will be living in the Lower Mainland region putting additional pressure on all infrastructure upgrades
  • Sea levels at mouth of the river are expected to rise in excess of one metre by end of this century:
    • Preliminary estimates place cost of diking upgrades by 2100 at nearly $9 billion for the tidal areas of the river and for adjacent coastal reaches
    • Storm surges combined with high tides in El Nino years could overtop existing flood protection infrastructure, even without additional sea level rise
    • In some years the spring freshet has come close to overtopping the existing dikes along the freshwater part of the river in the Fraser Valley
    • Damage from a major dike failure along the Lower Fraser could cost tens of billions of dollars, with very serious impacts on the economy of this region, B.C. and all of Canada
    • Each year during the spring freshet approximately 32 million m3 of sediment is transported by the Fraser River, with roughly 10% of this material settling in the lower reaches of the river. There is a strong need for increased dredging of these parts of the river
    • Need for preservation of industrial land is clear: Between 1980 – 2010, the Cities of Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby & Surrey altogether lost 3000 hectares of industrial land